Fdd's overnight brief

October 14, 2020

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


Referring to Washington’s new, additional sanctions on Tehran, the spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, Saeed Khatibzadeh, said on Monday that “these decisions and sanctions have caused serious monetary and financial damages to Iran.” – Radio Farda

In Iran’s capital city of Tehran, a young teacher, Reza Nahzat, was sentenced to 45 lashes for “insulting” Iran’s Minister of Education and his deputy. – Radio Farda

Iran, the crucible of coronavirus in the Middle East, smashed two grim records this week, reporting its largest number of deaths in a single 24 hours since the outbreak started in March, and the largest number of new infections. – The Guardian

The Islamic Republic has seen a surge in coronavirus infections; its Health Ministry puts the death toll at more than 29,000, making Iran the hardest-hit country in the Middle East. Even before the health crisis, the Iranian economy had been battered by low oil prices and crippling US sanctions reimposed by Washington after President Donald Trump withdrew in 2018 from the nuclear deal with major powers. – The Media Line

Babak Namazi writes: I was happy to see that France, Germany and Britain summoned their Iranian ambassadors to discuss the issue of hostages, and I encourage other countries to follow suit. I also urge them to translate their words into actions, such as potentially tying covid-19 aid for Iran to the release of all wrongly detained dual and foreign nationals — a move Pompeo suggested this year. It is long past time for the world to convey the clear message to Iran that its hostage-taking is not an effective foreign policy tool and that its attempts to use it as such will not be tolerated. – Washington Post


Lebanon’s Hezbollah and its ally Amal criticised on Wednesday the delegation set to negotiate with Israel over their disputed sea border, calling for changing the team hours before the first meeting. – Reuters

The Guatemalan government on Tuesday reaffirmed its commitment to a ban on Hezbollah Iran’s Shi’a proxy in Lebanon by announcing new legislation to prevent the financing of terrorism.  – Algemeiner

Hezbollah has been using a private non-governmental organization (NGO) to cover for their activities in southern Lebanon, the Israeli research organization the Alma Education Center has revealed. – Jerusalem Post

David Gardner writes: The balance sheet for Lebanon of all this intrigue is bleak. Still traumatised by the cataclysm of the port blast, many Lebanese have concluded that Iran’s satraps — Hizbollah and its henchmen — are immovable. […]After surviving decades of war and occupation, bombings and assassinations, it looks as if Lebanon will finally haemorrhage its lifeblood in an exodus of doctors and lawyers, teachers and academics, engineers and designers — and above all the young. One former minister fears 400,000 Lebanese will leave — about a tenth of the population excluding expatriate workers and Syrian and Palestinian refugees. Scorched earth. – Financial Times


Families gathered around a refrigerated truck at a Syrian-Turkish border post, waiting earlier this month for the drivers to dispense their awful cargo: the bodies of 52 Syrian men, killed in a war 600 miles away. – Washington Post

Hundreds of fighters from Syrian militias allied with Turkey have joined the fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, and hundreds more are preparing to go, according to two Syrians involved in the effort. – Wall Street Journal

One afternoon last month, a man claiming to be a Turkish intelligence operative walked into a police station in Vienna. His confession was explosive: The man said he had been ordered to shoot a Kurdish-Austrian politician, which he did not want to do, and asked for police protection. – New York Times

The United States on Tuesday slammed Turkey’s renewed push to send a vessel to carry out seismic surveys in the eastern Mediterranean, accusing Ankara of unilaterally stoking tensions and “deliberately” complicating the resumption of talks with Greece. – Reuters

Germany’s foreign minister on Tuesday criticized Turkey for “unilateral steps” in the eastern Mediterranean that are undercutting efforts to de-escalate tensions with Greece and Cyprus over sea boundaries and drilling rights. – Associated Press

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said on Tuesday he believed that only a change in Turkey’s stance on Nagorno-Karabakh could prompt Azerbaijan to halt military action over the tiny region. – Reuters

Turkey’s foreign minister angrily dismissed European Union calls to withdraw troops from northeast Syria on Tuesday, accusing it of double standards and trying to lecture Ankara on human rights and international law. – Reuters

A Turkish seismic survey ship has reached the location in the eastern Mediterranean where it will operate and was beginning to take readings on Wednesday, Turkey’s Energy Minister Fatih Donmez said. – Reuters

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The coordination of the military sales, recruitment of mercenaries and prepared statements, as well as Ankara’s shift from pushing a crisis with Greece in August and early September, to pushing Baku toward war, illustrate that at least part of the war effort was determined by Ankara. Now the tempo of conflict has been reduced, since Russia sought to mediate – and Ankara has renewed is focus on threatening Greece.. – Jerusalem Post


In a secret operation that took place last week and was made known to the public on Tuesday, IDF Special Forces crossed the border into the demilitarized zone between Israel and Syria and destroyed two outposts belonging to the Syrian army, N12 reported. – Jerusalem Post

Police, National Counter Terror Unit personnel and Border Police apprehended two individuals on Tuesday suspected of involvement in the month-old murder of a 26-year-old man who was a resident of Beit Hanina in Jerusalem. – Jerusalem Post

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh told the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee on Monday that voting US President Donald Trump out of office is critical for the Palestinians. – Jerusalem Post

Two Israeli soldiers were injured when an explosive device was thrown at them during an arrest raid in a northern West Bank refugee camp in the predawn hours of Wednesday morning, the military said. – Times of Israel

Israeli UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan said on Tuesday, “Today’s Human Rights Council elections prove once again that this council has nothing to do with protecting human rights and everything to do with violating them.” – Algemeiner

Neville Teller writes: Should Dahlan succeed this time in establishing himself as Abbas’s successor, he may prove to be the new broom so long needed on the Palestinian political scene. Dahlan is no “conviction politician.” He is a wheeler-dealer rather in the Trump mold. He, more than any Palestinian politician, seems to have the qualities needed to sweep aside the outworn attitudes of the leadership that has shackled the Palestinian people for decades, and embrace a more realistic approach to reaching an accommodation with Israel and the brighter future that is surely attainable for the whole region. – Jerusalem Post


Long-time foes Lebanon and Israel met on Wednesday for unprecedented talks on their disputed maritime border, a United Nations source said. – Reuters

Officials in Jerusalem this week downplayed the importance of rare maritime borders negotiations between Israel and Lebanon, stressing that the US-brokered talks will focus exclusively on a relatively minor dispute on the exact delineation of each other’s territorial waters to promote the development of future oil drillings. – Times of Israel

Lebanon and Syria have been jointly handed the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s (SWC’s) “2020 Worst Offender Award” for promoting antisemitic content at the Frankfurt Book Fair, the largest publishing trade fair of its kind worldwide. – Jerusalem Post

Saudi Arabia

Two months after the United Arab Emirates announced an agreement to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, the tightly controlled media in Saudi Arabia are offering clues to whether the influential kingdom might follow suit. – Washington Post

In an article titled “Peace Is A Necessity, Not A Choice” in the Saudi state daily ‘Okaz, published one day before the signing of the peace agreements between the UAE, Bahrain and Israel, Saudi journalist Fahd Ibrahim Al-Dughaither welcomed these agreements as harbingers of coexistence, economic growth and constructive competition in the region. Al-Dughaither added that Saudi Arabia not only does not oppose the agreements, but has future development plans of its own that require peace and stability; therefore, it has the right to make decisions that serve its supreme interests, at a time of its choosing. – Middle East Media Research Institute

The aspiring wunderkind, now aged 35, quickly cleared a path to the throne and ended the House of Saud’s consensual model of an absolute monarchy with no absolute monarch, seizing all the reins of power. Second, he surged forward with social and economic reform in a state until now under theocratic tutelage, where change has traditionally been driven at speeds between slow and stop. – Financial Times

Middle East & North Africa

Israel and the United Arab Emirates will sign a commercial aviation deal imminently, an Israeli official said on Tuesday, as the countries cemented newly normalised relations ahead of reciprocal delegation visits expected next week. – Reuters

Jordanian authorities expelled a convicted Palestinian terrorist to Qatar earlier this month, sparking backlash in the kingdom in support of Nizar Tamimi and his wife. – Times of Israel

A senior United Arab Emirates official on Tuesday shot back at the Palestinian ambassador to France, who had attacked Abu Dhabi over its establishment of formal relations with Israel. – Times of Israel

French telecoms group Orange has launched legal proceedings against the Iraqi government in an attempt to claw back a more than $400m investment it alleges was expropriated by the country’s regulator. – Financial Times

The death of two Gulf peacemakers this year augurs ill for the war-torn Middle East, where conflict has defined the decade that followed the Arab spring. – Financial Times

Ghaith al-Omari writes: To avoid these outcomes, key Arab capitals—primarily Amman, Cairo, and Riyadh—need to send a clear message to Ramallah about the cost of its current trajectory, while engaging the PA on ways it can benefit from the new trend of Arab-Israeli normalization. Individually, Jordan and Egypt have already communicated their concerns to Ramallah, but with little impact, highlighting the need for a coordinated approach. Jordan, given its special relationship and leverage with the PA, can play the lead role in managing this exchange, but it can do so only with Saudi and Egyptian support. – Washington Institute

Eric Oehlerich, Mick Mulroy, Liam McHugh write: Thousands of former ISIS fighters and tens of thousands of civilians indoctrinated in the group’s extremist ideology currently sit in prisons and refugee camps across Iraq and Syria. Leaving the detainees there is dangerous, but transitioning them will require some type of accountability for the crimes committed. – Middle East Institute

Korean Peninsula

Japan said it will boost its missile defense capabilities following a North Korean military parade that featured what appeared to be a massive, new intercontinental ballistic missile. – Washington Examiner

Editorial: Whether November brings us President Biden, as polls suggest, or President Trump again, it is unlikely to change North Korea’s calculus. It uses its weaponry to push itself up the agenda of incoming administrations: expect more testing next year. Mr Trump’s team has proved itself incapable of effective, constructive diplomacy. But Mr Biden will have an overflowing domestic inbox and Iran is more likely to be a foreign policy priority. Successive presidents have struggled to deal with Pyongyang, and it will be hard to launch another engagement bid immediately after the debacle of Mr Trump’s vanity diplomacy. – The Guardian

Paul Wolfowitz writes: We can’t know how Mr. Xi would react to a credible red line (or to the failure to draw one). Historical analogies are always imprecise; the Korean scenario was complex, and Taiwan’s situation differs from both Korea and Berlin. And there’s no denying that such an approach entails significant risks. But continued ambiguity in the face of Mr. Xi’s escalating rhetoric and provocative movements by his armed forces in the Taiwan Strait presents the greater risk of a confrontation as dangerous as the Cuban Missile Crisis. That leaves us with the credible threat of military force as the best hope of avoiding war. – Wall Street Journal


Chinese leader Xi Jinping announced plans to make Shenzhen an international trade hub and talent center, setting up the mainland metropolis as a business alternative to its politically troubled neighbor, Hong Kong. – Washington Post

China and Russia were elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council on Tuesday, but support for Beijing dropped by more than 20 percent compared with a 2016 vote and Saudi Arabia failed in its bid to win a seat on the Geneva-based body. – Reuters

China has opened a new front in its pressure campaign against Taiwan with a series of spying allegations and confessions aired on state television, denounced on the democratic island as entrapment and another reason for people to fear visiting China. – Reuters

Indian and Chinese military commanders held “positive, constructive” discussions on disengaging troops locked in a months-long standoff at their disputed Himalayan border, the two sides said in a joint statement on Tuesday. – Reuters

In China’s eyes, the choice between Mr Trump and Joe Biden, his Democratic party challenger, is stark. Mr Trump is expected to continue his hawkish policies towards Beijing, but the former vice-president’s inclination towards multilateralism raises the potential for greater co-operation with China, several analysts said. – Financial Times

Joseph Bosco writes: A successful Pence substitute candidacy, unfettered by the animus directed at Trump’s character and personal style, would ensure vindication of his administration’s policies, and their continuation. Completion of the Trump administration without Trump would seal the positive aspects of his historic legacy. – The Hill


Afghanistan’s defence minister flew to the southern province of Helmand on Wednesday a day after government forces launched a counter-offensive against Taliban insurgents who have battled their way towards the provincial capital in recent days. – Reuters

Two Afghan army helicopters collided while transporting wounded soldiers in the southern Helmand province, killing nine Afghan service members, the country’s Defense Ministry and local officials said Wednesday. – Associated Press

Pakistan’s military on Wednesday said a soldier was killed and another wounded in the country’s northwest by fire from across the Afghan border, a sign of increasing violence in an area that until recent years served as a base for Pakistani and foreign militants. – Associated Press


An Australian politician at the centre of a corruption probe told an inquiry on Wednesday that he had received envelopes full of thousands of dollars in cash at his parliament office as part of a scheme for Chinese nationals to fraudulently acquire visas. – Reuters

The situation in the South China Sea remains volatile and uncertain amid “aggressive actions” by China and as the U.S. patrols the area to ensure freedom of navigation, the Philippines’ military chief said. – Bloomberg

The U.S. and India have been “too cautious” about China’s reaction to developing their informal grouping with Japan and Australia, Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun said. – Bloomberg

A battle for control of Taiwan’s oldest privately owned company is forcing regulators to balance the need to ensure corporate governance in the country’s business world with blocking Beijing’s infiltration of its boardrooms. – Financial Times

Kyrgyzstan’s parliament named nationalist politician Sadyr Japarov prime minister in a repeat vote on Wednesday, a step towards ending a political crisis in the Central Asian nation closely allied with Russia. – Reuters

South Caucasus

In the last two weeks, those unhealed scars have erupted into a modern-day conflagration of trench warfare, drone strikes and artillery bombardments. More than 500 Armenian soldiers have died, along with scores of civilians and an unknown number of Azerbaijanis. A cease-fire brokered in Moscow over the weekend has failed to hold, and President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan has threatened a further escalation of his offensive. – New York Times

Armenia and Azerbaijan accused each other on Tuesday of violating a ceasefire agreed three days ago to quell fighting over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, drawing warnings from international groups of a humanitarian crisis. – Reuters

Azeri President Ilham Aliyev said on Wednesday that Azerbaijan was continuing a military operation to free territory in Nagorno-Karabakh, Russian news agency Interfax reported. – Reuters

Azeri President Ilham Aliyev said on Wednesday that Armenia was trying to attack gas pipelines in Azerbaijan and that the outcome will be severe if Armenians try to take control of them. – Reuters


Russia made a new appeal to Armenia and Azerbaijan to stop fighting in and around the mountain enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh after the warring sides accused each other of fresh ceasefire violations on Wednesday. – Reuters

Russia’s foreign minister warned Tuesday that Moscow could freeze its contacts with the European Union in response to its sanctions over the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny — an unprecedented threat that reflects a bitter Russia-EU strain. – Associated Press

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Rybakov specifically pushed back on claims from administration officials that the U.S. would extend the New START Treaty for an undetermined period of time if Russia froze its nuclear arsenal. – The Hill


A Slovakian court has sentenced the country’s leading neo-fascist politician to more than four years in prison after he used a well-known neo-Nazi symbol. – New York Times

Germany and France on Tuesday pressured the United Kingdom to make concessions in three key areas of Brexit trade negotiations — fishing rights, corporate governance and fair competition — or face a Jan. 1 no-deal rupture that would further harm a U.K. economy already battered by the coronavirus pandemic. – Associated Press

International arbitrators said Tuesday that the European Union can impose tariffs and other penalties on up to $4 billion worth of U.S. goods and services over illegal American support for plane maker Boeing. The move further sours transatlantic ties at a time when the coronavirus has doused trade and savaged economies. – Associated Press

European Union leaders meeting in Brussels on Thursday and Friday to discuss Brexit will say that progress in talks with Britain is “still not sufficient” to seal a new trade deal, according to a draft summit decision seen by Reuters. – Reuters

The European Union would prefer to have a Brexit deal, but it is ready in case no agreement can be reached, the Commissioner for the EU’s single market, Thierry Breton, told BFM business radio on Tuesday. – Reuters

Tom Rogan writes: And that’s exactly why the expansion of U.S. LNG is so positive. Not only will this export route keep energy prices low for Europe, it will give European governments the leverage they need to avoid making further concessions to Putin. The U.S. will have an even greater effect here if Nord Stream II is indeed sanctioned into oblivion. That’s something President Trump has been pressuring the Europeans on, but which he should further advance over Putin’s recent poisoning of dissident journalist Alexei Navalny. – Washington Examiner


President Donald Trump has told top advisers he wants to withdraw U.S. troops from Somalia, according to people familiar with the matter, allowing him to make good on campaign pledges to bring soldiers home even though the country remains beset by insurgents linked to al-Qaeda. – Bloomberg

Zambia has said it will resist pressure from Chinese creditors to make paying arrears a condition of pursuing debt relief talks, as the southern African nation battles to restructure $11bn of external debts. – Financial Times

Somalia’s Islamist insurgents are moving millions of dollars through the formal bank system and appear to be investing in businesses and real estate, according to a United Nations report offering a rare glimpse into their finances. – Reuters

The Americas

The Mexican government was sending water — their water — to Texas, leaving them next to nothing for their thirsty crops, the farmers said. So they took over the dam and have refused to allow any of the water to flow to the United States for more than a month. […]The standoff is the culmination of longstanding tensions over water between the United States and Mexico that have recently exploded into violence, pitting Mexican farmers against their own president and the global superpower next door. – New York Times

Members of anti-government paramilitary groups implicated in an alleged plot to kidnap Michigan’s governor ahead of the November election because of her measures to slow the coronavirus also discussed abducting Virginia’s governor, an FBI agent testified Tuesday. – Associated Press

Venezuela is ramping up its production and export of coal to European nations, according to export figures and vessel tracking data, as it seeks new sources of foreign currency amid tightening U.S. sanctions aimed at topping President Nicolas Maduro. – Reuters


Norway’s accusations that Russia launched a cyber attack against the Norwegian parliament in August was a “deliberate provocation, harmful for bilateral relations”, the Russian embassy in Oslo said on Tuesday. – Reuters

As coronavirus infections surged in Malaysia this year, a wave of hate speech and misinformation aimed at Rohingya Muslim refugees from Myanmar began appearing on Facebook. – Reuters

Wendy Robinson writes: Furthermore, the United States needs to use quality as a way to contend with Chinese products. American UAVs are considered more reliable, with better transmission, detectors, and missiles than their Chinese equivalents, and customers would choose U.S. technology if made available. In order to compete with China, the United States needs to loosen certain regulations to support U.S. competitiveness in the Persian Gulf. U.S. companies already have the foundation for success: IBM was one of the first innovators of the “Smart City” concept. Though currently, IBM, Palantir, and Cisco comprise a small percentage of companies in the global AI Surveillance market, their reliability continues to make them viable partners. – Washington Institute


Eight countries have signed an international pact for moon exploration called the Artemis Accords, NASA announced on Tuesday as the U.S. space agency tries to shape standards for building long-term settlements on the lunar surface. – Reuters

The U.S. Navy is looking to build a new generation of destroyers from a clean-sheet design, following the model of one of its most successful ship classes, the Arleigh Burke-class DDG, the service’s top officer said Tuesday. – Defense News

U.S. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy reported in his speech at the Association of the U.S. Army conference that the Pentagon’s hypersonic missile hit within 6 inches of its target. – Defense News

By the end of 2020, F-35 fighter jets rolling off Lockheed Martin’s production line will be equipped with a modified lightning protection system that will fix problems discovered earlier this year, the company’s head of production said. – Defense News

Arnold Defense announced Tuesday that two new customers have purchased its Fletcher laser-guided rocket system  although details of quantity, value and the identity of one of the customers remain opaque. – Defense News

The top data official on the U.S. Army’s tactical network modernization team said Tuesday that the military will need to solve data governance and interoperability issues across the services as leaders work toward linking sensors and shooters across domains and services. – C4ISRNET

The U.S. Army has demonstrated the ability to remotely control electronic warfare sensors through an over-the-air data link and feed the information back to a central battle management tool. – C4ISRNET

The Secretary of the Army today said that the Defense Department is now reviewing the investigation into military helicopters that allegedly flew dangerously low over crowds during a June 1 race protest in Washington D.C. – Military.com

The United States said Tuesday it had reached an “agreement in principle” with Russia on extending New START, the two nations’ last major nuclear accord, which is due to expire in February. – Agence France-Presse

Trump Administration

The Trump administration is demanding that U.S. think tanks and academic institutions publicly disclose what funding they receive from foreign governments or otherwise risk losing access to State Department officials. – Politico

The Justice Department told a federal court that President Trump’s recent tweets about the declassification of Trump-Russia investigation documents did not actually constitute formal declassification orders as the DOJ opposed a motion to release more information connected to former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. – Washington Examiner

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin plans to travel to the Middle East next week for the first time since the pandemic, as prospects dimmed for the U.S. stimulus legislation he’s been negotiating. – Bloomberg